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Certification of Professional Manure Handlers Can Influence Water Quality

By Robert Meinen
 
This article describes Pennsylvania’s Act 49 Commercial Manure Hauler and Broker Certification Program and provides interesting results from a recent industry survey that demonstrates program impact on participant knowledge.
The number of people certified in Pennsylvania’s Act 49 Manure Hauler and Broker Certification Program and percentage of individuals in each certification category (Provided by Michael Aucoin, Pa State Conservation Commission, December 2018)
 
While direct water quality impacts from education and certification of professional manure handlers is hard to measure, a recent survey of the Pennsylvania industry demonstrates that program participants gain knowledge on key competencies. Increased awareness of water quality issues, manure nutrient conservation, and regulatory compliance surely empowers industry workers to make wise decisions in the field that increase environmental stewardship. This article describes Pennsylvania’s Act 49 Commercial Manure Hauler and Broker Certification Program and provides some interesting results from a recent industry survey that demonstrates program impact on participant knowledge.
 
Certification Structure and Requirements
 
Pennsylvania’s Act 49 Commercial Manure Hauler and Broker Certification Program began in 2006 when the law mandated that all individuals that handle manure in a commercial manner become certified. The law outlined a number of educational competencies to be included in certification processes. Oversight of the program is housed with the Pennsylvania State Conservation Commission and educational efforts are led by Penn State Extension. There are over 700 individuals certified in the program as demonstrated in Figure 1, where the distribution by certification level is outlined.
 
Due to the structure of workers within the professional manure handling industry the following five certification levels were incorporated into the policy. The general philosophy is that more responsibility requires more education and demonstration of proficiency.
 
Manure Hauler Level 1
 
This certification level is often referred to as the “trucker” level. Those certified at this level can transport and deliver manure but cannot land-apply manure. Certification at this level requires no formal training, testing, or continuing education. To become certified an individual completes a checklist, verifying that they understand basic environmental risk and safety hazards associated with their role.
 
Manure Hauler Level 2
 
Often referred to the “employee” level, certification includes testing that is supervised at the county level. Exam material is based on material found in a thorough 46-page study workbook. The workbook is provided to the industry online or mailed upon request. Once certified, individuals are required to attain 6 Continuing Education Credits (CEC) in a 3-year period. A CEC is equivalent to an hour of approved educational training. Personnel in this category must be supervised by a Hauler Level 3 or Broker when they work.
 
Manure Hauler Level 3
 
This “owner or manager” category requires both attendance in classroom training and exam completion. To maintain certification Hauler Level 3s must attain 9 CECs in a 3-year period.
 
Manure Broker Level 1
 
Brokers at this level go through the same training and testing, and have the same CEC requirements, as those certified as Manure Hauler Level 3. However, they choose to have the authority to assume ownership of manure and determine its end use. Typically, this means the manure is exported from the farm where it was generated with no control of its destination by management at the original farm. When manure is exported from a farm in the Pennsylvania Act 38 Nutrient Management Program is must be land-applied under the guidance of a Nutrient Balance Sheet (NBS). A caveat of this broker level is that they are not certified to develop the NBS, yet they must provide the NBS as developed by another certified Broker Level 2 or Act 38 Nutrient Management Plan Writer.
 
Manure Broker Level 2
 
In addition to the training and testing performed to become a Broker Level 1, those certified at this level complete training and testing that authorizes them to develop NBSs. In addition to the 9 CECs required for other levels, Broker Level 2’s must also attend 3 CECs specifically geared toward NBS development, for a total of 12 CECs in a 3-year period. The Pennsylvania NBS provides three options for development of manure application rates. Broker Level 2s can initially utilize only basic Phosphorus and Nitrogen-based application rates that come with several conservative application restrictions that limit risk of nutrient loss. However, brokers at this level can complete additional training that allows them to develop NBS application rates based on Phosphorus Indexing.
 
2018 Industry Survey
 
In January and February 2018, a survey was distributed to attendees at eleven different CEC events. The survey gathered anonymous information about the attendees and asked 18 knowledge-based questions centered around program competencies. The survey was completed by 218 individuals. Data showed that individuals in higher levels of certification were both in the program longer and scored higher on knowledge-based questions. Question content included manure nutrient management and cycling, manure application setbacks and requirements, emergency response, soil compaction, farm biosecurity, and fly control.
 
Analysis of each individual question across certification level allowed educators and agency personnel to recognize strengths and weaknesses in past educational efforts, and to identify topics for future educational focus.
 
Both those that listed themselves as an owner and/or a supervisor scored higher than those that did not. This indicates that education of industry leaders and decision makers is likely to have broader impact as they influence actions of employees in the field.
 
The summary of an additional question helps to demonstrate the influence this education-based certification program can attain. The average number of farms that the 218 survey-takers work on in a year was listed as 40.3 farms. This average certainly contains overlap as employees from the same company could all consider the same farms in their response to this question. Nonetheless, empowering professional manure handlers with the ability to make science-based, in-field decisions can have impact across many farms and acres.
 
Program educators feel that survey results supported their belief that educational efforts and certification help the industry to continually improve responsible handling of manure nutrients in the state, and that these programs have real — but hard-to-measure — positive impacts on water and air quality.